Two weeks ago, USA Today revealed data from the internal star-rating system the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) uses to measure progress at VA facilities throughout the country. VA administrators had historically denied this information to the public, claiming it was meant only for internal tracking purposes and “may give patients the wrong idea about their facility.” VA Undersecretary David Shulkin outright stated that he does not want veterans to assume the one-star facilities are bad and in turn not get medical care.
After this public pressure to release its medical center ratings, the VA has finally done so, albeit quietly. We now have a fuller picture of what each facility is rated, and what they were rated at the end of last year for comparison. The Phoenix VA facility stayed in the one-star category, unsurprisingly.
The fact that this data was not immediately forward-facing is indicative of the VA’s propensity to avoid transparency and keep from the public what the situation at each VA truly is. USA Today notes that before this, “a dizzying array of hundreds of spreadsheets” were all the public had to go on to track improvement or decline. Yet the VA had created a much simpler internal rating system that they were unwilling to share with the public. If one wanted to find out whether their local VA was improving, they would “have to be an expert,” according to Shulkin.
The VA is in need of a new sense of openness with the public if it is to improve performance. Transparency only after a USA Today investigation shows the VA is mostly interested in saving face, not serving its customers with integrity.
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